Rwanda is a small country situated in central and east Africa, and has long been labeled a Christian nation. In fact, it has a higher percentage of Christians than any other country in Africa. Since the mid 90’s the country has become a safe place, with a strong centralized government. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Rwandans are generally divided into three people groups: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The Twa are largely marginalized, living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the forests. The Hutu and Tutsi, however, have been the center of great tensions. Beginning in the 1800s, a growing divide established itself between the two groups.
Hutus and Tutsis jockeyed for power until 1994, when a surface-to-air missile shot President Juvénal Habyarimana’s aircraft from the sky, killing the president—a Hutu—and all on board. This sparked greater conflict between the groups. The Hutu blamed the Tutsi, which resulted in a genocide that lasted for approximately 100 days. By the time the dust settled, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and sympathetic Hutu were slaughtered.
The State of Christianity in Rwanda
Missionaries Dave and Lynn Kehler have worked in Kigali and other cities and regions of Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide. While it’s been almost 20 years since those events, the effects remain. The Kehlers explain: “Half of the trained pastors were killed. Of those not killed, half fled the country. That left a very small number to care for a most traumatized nation, with even the trust between pastor and congregant shattered!”
The country fell into illiteracy due to the destruction of schools. While general education is now offered freely to the people, many illiterate Rwandans cannot afford the cost of books. Those with biblical education are scarcer still. Anyone with a Bible and a bit of charisma is a likely pastoral candidate. Religious associations have little influence upon daily life. As demonstrated by the genocide and hostilities between groups, the name Christian, for many, is just a name. (This is, sadly, the case in so many “Christian” nations.)
God is at Work
Despite these difficulties, God is at work among the people of Rwanda. The country has maintained a strong oral tradition, passing down art, stories, poetry, and music through generations. In keeping with this tradition, choirs have become the main method of church discipleship. Dave Kehler says, “Songs are doctrinal and are memorized, and also, membership in the choir is a visible sign of a person’s commitment to the church.”
The Kehlers, in partnership with The Christian Life: Africa, are on mission “to impact African nations with the Lordship of Jesus to transform local-church leadership through relationship-based equipping ministry.”
The couple also partners with The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO), which has donated 120 copies of John Piper’s book, Finally Alive (Swahili Edition), for them to distribute among the local pastors and church leaders in Rwanda. The Kehlers report that these were received as precious treasures, and the pastors became quickly engrossed in them, not even aware that such resources were available.
The Kehlers praise God for the opportunity to further the kingdom of God and to strengthen the church of Christ. They would like to remind us that Rwanda’s great need of resources continues. They could have given out several hundred more books if they had them. But they thank God for what He has done, and pray that He will continue to bless TGC-IO for the sake of many “hungry” pastors.